II Kings 4:42 – 5: 19
Elisha – (prophet) c. 720 BCE
The haftarah for “Tazria” tells two great stories about the prophet Elisha.
In the first story (Kings II 4: 42, 43) a man brings Elisha fruit, barley and corn. Elisha tells him to feed the community with the food but the man protests that there is too little. Elisha responds that there will be enough, and miraculously there is enough to feed the all the people.
The second story is more involved. A commander of the Aramean army had “tza’arat” (leprosy). When he returned from war he brought back a young Jewish maiden to be his wife’s slave. The girl told her mistress that Naaman should go to Elisha to be cured of the leprosy.
Elisha told him to go to the Jordan River, wash 7 times, and then he would be cured. Naaman was angry and insulted because the advice was so simple. He expected spells or special medicines- just to go to a small river in Israel was an affront. His servants told him to stop being so proud. Naaman was cured after following Elisha’s instructions. He then proclaimed, “Behold, now I know that there is no God in all the earth but in Israel”.
The story points out a number of interesting things. It reminds us of the continuing wars and famine in the times of the prophets. We read how Jewish men, women, and children were taken for slaves. It gives a young Jewish girl a key role in a story of the prophet. The narrative also shows how non-Jews believed in the abilities of Jewish prophets and the Jewish God. It also indicates the desire for Elisha to help and cure anyone who came to him.
I decided to paint the two stories one beside the other. It looks like two frames from a comic book strip but actually the format is far older than the comic book world. You can see this same layout in manuscripts dating back to the 13 th century.
Elisha lived in Samaria (Shomron) and succeeded Elijah, a solitary and forceful leader. Before Elijah was taken to the heavens in a whirlwind he asked Elisha what Elisha would like to have. Elisha asked to inherit a double-portion of Elijah’s spirit.
Indeed, in his life, Elisha performed 16 miracles and brought two people back to life, whereas Elijah performed 8 miracles and brought one person back to life. Elisha lived and prophesied in difficult times. There was drought, famine, attacks from surrounding armies; and corruption and warring in the Israelite monarchy. Elisha wasn’t as forceful a personality as his teacher. Rather he was known for his desire to help others in need.
Enjoy your week, enjoy the stories (Kings II, 4:42 to 5: 19).
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